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Vayakhel-Pekudei 5778-2018

“Bringing G-d Home”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s double parshiyot, Vayakhel-Pekudei, pose a significant challenge to all students of Torah.

In this week’s parshiyot, the Torah records, for the fifth time, in both a specific and a general way, the details of the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle and its furnishings, as well as the vestments of the priests.

Especially unusual, is that the Torah, in Exodus 35:4-9, once again, enumerates all the materials that the Israelites are to bring for the construction of the Tabernacle: gold, silver, copper, turquoise, scarlet wool, linen, goat hair, red-dyed ram skins, tachash skins, acacia wood, oil for illuminations, spices for the anointment oil, aromatic incense, precious stones, and stones for the setting of the Ephod in the breastplate. The lists not only seem endless, they are exceedingly repetitious.

In Exodus 35:10, Moses continues his instructions to the people and says, וְכָל חֲכַם לֵב, בָּכֶם, יָבֹאוּ וְיַעֲשׂוּ, אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה השׁם , And every wise person among you shall come and make everything that the L-rd has commanded. Once again, the Torah enumerates the Tabernacle, the tent, its covers, hooks, planks, bars, pillars and sockets, etc., etc.

What would have been so terrible if Moses had just ended with a general statement, without repeating the details, as we find in Exodus 35:10? “And every wise-hearted person among you shall come and make everything that God has commanded!” What is the point of repeating again and again and again, five times, the “dramatic” details of the Tabernacle?

Serious students of the Torah know that the Torah is hardly ever repetitive, and is particularly precise with its wording. When it is expansive, it is usually to communicate a special message. The reason that the Torah elaborates on Eliezer’s mission to find a wife for Issac is not only because of the nuances that we learn from the textual differences, but also because of the importance of learning the precise details of Eliezer’s efforts to find a proper wife for the young patriarch Isaac. The repetitions reflect G-d’s respect for Eliezer’s loyalty in fulfilling the mission of finding the proper wife for Isaac.

Clearly, the Torah’s frequent repetition regarding the intricacies of building the Tabernacle are a reflection of G-d’s love of Israel and G-d’s personal admiration for the efforts that the people of Israel invested in building a “dwelling place” for the Divine Presence.

But wouldn’t a single repetition or a double repetition or a triple repetition be sufficient? Why five times? What could all this possibly mean?

Apparently, there is a profound reason for the repetition, one that becomes more obvious as we recall the general contents of the book of Exodus, which concludes with this week’s Torah portions.

The book of Exodus records three major events: the Exodus from Egypt, the Revelation at Sinai, and erecting the Tabernacle. Each one of these events plays a profound role in establishing the spiritual identity of the People of Israel.

God’s greatest desire is for His Divine Presence to dwell among the Jewish people. In Exodus 25:8 God declares: וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ, וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם , Make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst!

Despite the miraculous rescue of the Israelites as the sea waters covered their enemies, despite the unequaled spiritual visions that the handmaidens saw as the sea waters split (visions that even the greatest prophets of the future were unable to envision) despite the ecstatic spiritual songs that were sung by the men and the women after the people’s rescue, the Divine Presence did not come to rest on Israel at that time.

This is also true of the revelation at Sinai, where the Israelites actually “saw” G-d’s voice pronounce the commandments. With all the pyrotechnics, the thunder and lightning, the sounds of the shofar, the Divine Presence still did not rest on the Jewish people. In fact, in Exodus 20:16, the people insist that Moses speak to them, fearful that they would die from the power of G-d’s voice.

It is only when the building of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, is complete that the Torah, Exodus 29:46, states: וְיָדְעוּ, כִּי אֲנִי השׁם אֱ-לֹקֵיהֶם, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, לְשָׁכְנִי בְתוֹכָם, אֲנִי, השׁם אֱ-לֹקֵיהֶם , I will sanctify the Tabernacle and the altar as well as Aaron and his sons, and I will dwell amongst the People of Israel and be their G-d. They shall know that I am the Lord your G-d who took them out of the land of Egypt to rest My presence among them. I am the L-rd their G-d.

The Midrash Rabbah, on Numbers 12, states, “From the time of the creation of the world until the Tabernacle was completed, the Divine Presence did not dwell on terrestrial beings. Only when the Tabernacle was erected did the Divine Presence dwell on the people.”

Rabbi Yaakov Filber in his cogent analysis, points to significant differences between the exodus from Egypt, the revelation at Sinai and the erecting of the Tabernacle.

Why hadn’t G-d previously caused his Divine Presence to dwell on the people? Both the splitting of the sea and the revelation at Sinai, says Rabbi Filber, were acts performed by the Al-mighty G-d alone, while the people were passive recipients. Since there was no participation of the Israelites or any of G-d’s other creatures, there was no manifestation of the Divine Presence.

That is why it was so important from the very start of the “Tabernacle project” (Exodus 25:2) that the people donate, וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה, מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ , Every man must be passionate about donating to the Tabernacle from beginning to end.

The Midrash HaGadol on Exodus 39:32 spells it out clearly, “And all the work was finished in the Tabernacle and the children of Israel did what needed to be done.” Resh Lakish says, the Tabernacle is more beloved by G-d than even the creation of the world itself. During the creation of the world, there was no effort on the part of any of God’s creatures; it all happened through the word of G-d. G-d spoke and the heavens were created. At the building of the Tabernacle, Moses, and Israel participated in every single facet. As the Torah states in Exodus 39:32, וַיַּעֲשׂוּ, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה השׁם אֶת מֹשֶׁה, כֵּן עָשׂוּ , And Israel did all that G-d commanded Moses, so did they do.

No matter how great the occasion, only the participation of the people succeeds in bringing the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, to dwell in Israel.

May you be blessed.

This Shabbat is also known as “Shabbat Parashat Parah.” It is the third of four special Shabbatot that surround the holiday of Purim. On this Shabbat, a thematic Torah portion concerning the Red Heifer is read from Numbers 19:1‑22.

Shabbat Across America and Canada” will be celebrated this Friday night, March 9, 2018. We expect over 50,000 participants throughout North America. Please call 1(888) SHABBAT, or  click here to find a local Shabbat Across America and Canada location, and sign up for “a Taste of Shabbat,” a taste of the World to Come!